Google helps young boy identify ancient mastodon tooth

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 6 years ago

Sometimes, it takes the aimlessness of childhood to happen upon some of the coolest scientific discoveries. For 9 year old Philip Stoll, it entailed walking along a creek last summer in his Michigan town. He stepped on something uneven, and upon examination he decided the thing looked “pretty cool,” so he took it home. What he found turned out to be a tooth from a mastodon, a mammoth-like species that roamed the planet some 10,000 years ago.

The tooth, which is about eight inches long with six peaks, wasn’t always so self-evidently a tooth. Philip’s mother, Heidi, was examining the object, eventually getting creeped out when she saw what she thought might be gum tissue.

“I was holding it in my hands for a few minutes and then it gave me the creeps so I put it down on the desk,” she told CNN. “It looked like a tooth. It looked like there was something like gum tissue, a little bulgy thing around the top.”

To get answers, the family Googled “large tooth object” and eventually found James Harding, a herpetologist at nearby Michigan State University. After looking at their images, Harding confirmed that they were indeed in possession of  a mastodon tooth. Apparently, mastodon teeth turn up in Michigan frequently, with finds coming in three to four times per year.

“It is a great reminder of what used to roam the country,” he said. “It most likely got stuck in a swampy area and drowned.”

Mastodons, like wooly mammoths, had trunks, curved tusks, shaggy fur and lived in herds. Compared to the mammoths, mastodons had somewhat shorter legs and a more muscular build.

Perhaps emboldened by his accidental success, Philip says he’s like to study paleontology when he’s older. He’s off to a good start.